MONTREAL – With 30 games and 60 points still up for grabs, the Habs are facing the road ahead as a united group.
Outshooting their opponents but managing just two goals against the Sabres in a 4-2 loss on home ice, the storyline felt a little too familiar to the Canadiens players in the room postgame on Wednesday night. Having now gone 5-16-1 since December 1, the Habs have struggled to pick up wins over the last two months and now sit five points out of a playoff spot with less than a third of the season remaining. They know they have an uphill climb ahead, but the players have no intention of throwing in the towel just yet.
“It’s a tough sell, but what got everyone to this point is we believe in each other. You have to believe in yourself and in your teammates. If you don’t, it’s going to go south quick,” stressed assistant captain Brendan Gallagher, who had four shots on goal against the Sabres. “You have to have that confidence when you look around the locker room that you can trust in each and every single guy. We’re going through a very, very tough time and we’re not getting the results we want, but you can’t lose the belief in each other. You have to trust that your teammates are going to go out and do their job and you have to do the same.”
Tying the game with a power play marker to notch his 12th of the campaign in the second period, Dale Weise helped bring the Habs back to life after seeing the Sabres come out to an early lead in the opening frame. Alex Galchenyuk followed suit less than eight minutes later, dancing around the offensive zone to backhand his 12th past Robin Lehner, giving the Canadiens a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission. Confident in their play through the first 40 minutes, the Habs weren’t able to close out the Sabres in the final 20.
“We’re laying it on the line out there; it’s not for a lack of effort. We’re working hard and we’re getting a ton of chances, but we’re not scoring,” described Weise. “I don’t know what it is – with 10 minutes left, it’s like we were just sitting back, like we were just playing for a tie. We weren’t aggressive and we’re not going after teams. It’s like we’re afraid to lose. The NHL is too good of a league to do that.”
Having previously gone 16-2-2 when leading after two periods, the Habs came out for the third ready to add a 17th win to that total against Buffalo. But when Jamie McGinn tipped in a power play marker 7:34 into the period, Max Pacioretty admits the Sabres’ forward took the wind out of the Canadiens’ sails.
“We were playing well. We had a great second period and we had a great first half of the third period. We were all over them. We had some chances,” recounted Pacioretty, who assisted on Weise’s goal. “They got that tying goal and it just felt like, ‘Not this again’. We’re only human, and with this happening time after time as of late, it’s tough to stay upbeat, but we have to. We have to do that in every situation that we’re faced with from here on out.
“You’ve got 20 guys in the lineup every night, you have 23-25 guys in the room every day, four to five coaches; everybody needs to step up and be a leader,” concluded the Habs captain. “The message relayed from up top to us players is that we have to stick together in times like this. It’s not a matter of one or two guys; it’s a matter of everybody finding a way to keep the mood up in the room, on the bench, on the ice, and ultimately as players, we have to know that we can make a difference on any shift. You can’t point fingers, because we’re all in this together.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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